This is the 15th post of a series. I started out telling a chronological story, but got derailed before I could get past August of 2012. I’ve addressed the derailing tangent to death. I’m tired of talking about something I wasn’t even talking about. I’m skipping WAY ahead in my story. Maybe I’ll get back to explaining how God brought me to where I am today, maybe not. Today, I’m cutting to the chase. And I can see another tangent coming at me already, so I’m hoping an acknowledgement will help me nip that in the bud. (If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.)
I’m going to say hard things. I’ve spent a week writing this particular post and I’ve prayed about it for hours. and hours. and hours. and HOURS. Hard. Things. I promise you I’m saying them in a spirit of edification.
After a 14 post lead-in…
HERE’S MY POINT:
THERE. IS. MORE.
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
Christ came that we may have life, and have it abundantly, in all its fullness.
Not abundant blessings or stuff.
Abundant life isn’t a state of existence to be pursued or attained. It isn’t a level of success or a degree of spirituality. It is an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and it leads to a dependance on Him that can’t be met through or in or by ANYthing else.
Without Christ, I can accomplish NOTHING of eternal significance. Without Christ, I have NOTHING. Without Christ, I am NOTHING.
And before I say another word, I need to acknowledge something:
I know there are people in my church who understand what I’m saying.
I need to say that LOUDER:
I know there are people in my church who understand what I’m saying.
But there are so. many. people in my church who have no idea what I’m talking about.
There are people in my church who don’t want what I’m talking about.
There are people in my church who don’t give a flyin flip what I’m talking about.
And to beat a dead horse – I am not only referring to people who haven’t yet accepted Christ. This is NOT about evangelism.
I am primarily referring to people who have accepted Christ.
I accepted Christ 28 years ago and up until 2007, I wouldn’t have known what I was talking about if I explained it to me. (good luck following that.)
There are born-again Christians in my church who have never experienced abundant life in Christ through an intimate, no holds barred relationship with him, who have no idea what I mean by that, who flat out don’t want it and/or don’t think there’s any need for it.
And if the Christians aren’t witnesses to what Christ has done and is doing in our lives and in our church, how will the non-Christians – both the people seeking God and the people who think they are Christian but have never accepted Christ – ever see evidence that a life transformed by faith in Christ is any different from their own?
There are so. many. people. – Christians and non-Christians – at my church who don’t see any need for an intimate relationship with Christ. They don’t even know that what they are missing even exists.
And that realization causes me to grieve for my church. and to pray. persistently.
Because as much as God desires an intimate relationship with us, He won’t force us into it.
My church is not a Christ-centered church. The gospel is not the foundation of all we say and do.
My church has gone off on our own to accomplish good and reasonable things in the world.
My church is so focused on working for God it doesn’t even occur to us to come to the banquet and spend time with God.
My church isn’t refusing to open the door, we just can’t hear Him knocking over all the activity in the house.
There’s nothing I can do or say to bring revival to my church. There’s nothing anyone can do or say to bring revival to my church. Not even the pastor. A Christ-centered sermon here or there won’t do it. A compelling sermon won’t “convince” us to desire revival. Because revival doesn’t come from an intellectual decision to initiate it.
Yes, the Holy Spirit can anoint a pastor and use a 20 minute sermon to draw people to Christ. But if God were to move and stir revival in my church, He wouldn’t limit Himself to that 20 minutes. He would saturate the culture of the church in a foundational dependence on Christ that results in a consuming passion to worship Him, an underlying peace that comes from an unwavering trust in Him and JOY that trumps any unhappiness or trial we might face.
“We depend on God to help us.”
no. we don’t.
“Yes we do.”
no. we really don’t.
For all the things we do at my church, all the programs and classes and service and ministries and sermons and worship sets, we don’t – as a unified body of believers – acknowledge that without Christ at the center of all we say and do, we can’t accomplish ANYTHING of eternal significance.
At my church, we link arms and stand strong together;
we would kick butt in a game of Red Rover. At my church, we know how to follow instructions;
we would be champions at a Simon Says tournament. At my church, we are more loyal to each other
than the Robertson Family. At my church, if we had a box of dominoes, we would
line them up in nice, neat, reasonable, sensible rows
(I know a few who would prefer a game of Mexican train).
We – as a unified body of believers – do NOT openly and consistently acknowledge that we are completely incapable of accomplishing anything on our own.
And there goes the first domino.
The second?Because we – as a unified body of believers – don’t acknowledge that the Holy Spirit – given to us freely through our faith in Christ – is the source of our strength and abilities, because we don’t approach EVERYthing we do – programs, classes, service, ministry and every aspect of our weekly services – with a openly shared understanding that we desperately need the Holy Spirit to equip us for these pursuits, we don’t make prayer our first step – our first priority – and humbly ask Him to do the equipping.
We don’t even ask Him if the things we are trying to do are within His will.
when the dominoes come tumbling down?
We set ’em up again.
We brainstorm and research and study and benchmark and make decisions based on good ideas and bad. We think and reason and rationalize and plan and execute – all without STOPPING. And spending “unreasonable” amounts of time in prayer asking God if these “things” we are planning are things He even wants us to do in the first place. As a unified body of believers, we don’t beg God to reveal to us our motivations and guide us to fruitfulness.
We are afraid to sincerely offer ourselves up and ask God to prune us. Why? Because we know He will?
But we need it. Because we are dragging the ground, covered in mud. Weak. Unfruitful.
We as a congregation need a clear understanding of what our church believes, what our values are, what our mission is, because without a clear understanding what we believe and why we believe it, we have nothing upon which to measure when it comes to evaluating whether or not all this stuff we’re doing supports those values.
We do good and reasonable things.
We do things because we’ve always done them.
We do things because they are efficient.
We do things because they make sense.
We do things to make people comfortable.
We do things so people won’t leave.
We don’t even consider the possibility that God might have something completely different in mind.
Something better than we ever thought or imagined.
Something we can’t accomplish without Him.
Something that would give Him all the glory.
Instead, we are…reasonable. and appropriate.
We don’t ask people to tell us how they came to faith in Christ.
Instead, we ask them how they came to our church.
Baptisms are for new babies, new members and new confirmands.
Professions of faith? new members and confirmands.
If someone comes to faith in Christ outside the schedule of a new member or confirmation class, what do they do?
Who do they tell?
How do we celebrate?
Is genuine worship something we as a body of Christ are confident we experience every week?
Or are there (too many?) times when “congregational singing” would be a better description?
How many of us wake up and go to church because that’s just what we do on Sunday morning?
How many of us wake up and go to church because we look forward to spending time with friends and family?
How many of us wake up and look forward to church because we know we will encounter the manifest presence of God?
This is what I pray for my church:
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
“The gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
That’s not a church we can build on our own power. It’s a church only Christ can build.
But we have to realize we need the Father. And come home to Him empty handed.
We have to come to the banquet and spend time with Him.
We have to open the door and let Him in.
How do we get to that place? The place where we want to go home, want to spend time with him and want to open the door?
I’m praying desperately and persistently, that my church – as the body of CHRIST – would be profoundly dissatisfied with being nice people who do good things in pursuit of a “good Christian life.”
I’m praying desperately and persistently, that – as the body of CHRIST – we would dedicate ourselves to prayer and relentlessly ask Christ to draw us into an intimate relationship with Him that leads us to experience abundant life in Him.
THERE. IS. MORE.
“All the hearts who are content, And all who feel unworthy.
And all who hurt with nothing left, Will know that You are holy
And all will sing out, Hallelujah. And we will cry out, Hallelujah
Shout it, Go on scream it from the mountains
Go on and tell it to the masses, That He is God”
“We committed ourselves to unapologetic preaching, unashamed worship, unceasing prayer, and unafraid witness. And God began to reveal His glory slowly at first but increasingly over time.” Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be by James MacDonald
CLICK HERE to read the next post in this series, entitled: Vertical Church: a clarification. and a survey.
This is the 15th post of a series. If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.
oh, that’s bound to get me in trouble. I can hear it: “sacrilege!” “blasphemy!” “heathen!”
or maybe you’re thinking I’ve completely lost it.
evangelism. is like Halloween?
For those of you who will click away because you don’t have time to read a crazy woman’s blog, see ya later.
But for those of you who are saying “okay. I’ll bite. WHY is evangelism like Halloween?”
Here’s a little glimpse into the crazy that is me.
My kids go to a non-denominational Christian school. When they were little, every few years, one of them would come home from school in October and tell me that one of their teachers had told their class that celebrating Halloween was a sin. They came home with horrible stories about pagan practices and a load of guilt bigger than their backpacks.
I always responded the same way.
Me: “What does Halloween mean to you?”
Kids: “costumes. candy.”
Me: “That’s right. Do we practice any of those pagan rituals?”
Kids, alternating:“Minnie Mouse, Blue from Blues Clues, Cinderella, Jack Hammer Rescue Hero, Sleeping Beauty, Darth Vader, Barbie, a pirate, Boba Fett…”
Me: “That’s right. In our family, we celebrate Halloween because dressing up and trick-or-treating is fun. Costumes and candy. It’s sad that some people only see the bad things about Halloween. They’re missing out on all the fun part. Besides, you know what that means?”
Me: “More candy for us.”
If you came away from that story with “Salvation is like getting candy.” then I am a terrible writer and you should just CLICK HERE and go waste your time somewhere else.
Here’s my point: Our family’s approach to and motivation for celebrating Halloween has nothing to do with the horrible things associated with Halloween and everything to do with what we love about Halloween.
Are there horrible things associated with Halloween?
We don’t celebrate Halloween because of those things.
Moving on to evangelism.
Over the last few weeks, I have learned the hard way that “evangelism” is not a simple word with a commonly accepted definition. Let’s look at two of them:
1. The spreading of the Christian gospel by preaching or personal witness.
2. militant or crusading zeal
I choose Door Number 1.
Here’s what that definition looks like on the other side of my personal filters: “Being a witness to what Christ has done and is doing in my life – because I’m so passionate about it I can’t keep it to myself. Sometimes through opportunities to speak to a group, more often than not, one on one, within the context of my personal relationships.”
My approach to and motivation for sharing how my life is impacted by my faith in Christ has nothing to do with “militant or crusading zeal” and everything to do with the fact that my relationship with Christ is the best part of my life.
Some people, who know about the “militant and crusading zeal” definition (maybe because they’ve been a victim of it in the past?), will be hard pressed to hear any talk of Christ through any other filter. They would rather I shut the hell up. And be gone.
But here’s the thing. I don’t often talk about hell. Not because hell doesn’t exist. I believe it exists just like I believe pagan Halloween practices exist. And I’m not afraid of talking about hell. It’s just that hell is not at the forefront of my mind or my motivation when I talk about what Christ is doing in my life.
Rather, my passion for Christ stems overwhelmingly from the foundational peace and joy I experience because I am saturated by the intimacy of my relationship with Him.
So, to review. How is evangelism like Halloween?
Let’s extract two key paragraphs and compare:
Halloween: Our family’s approach to and motivation for celebrating Halloween has nothing to do with the horrible things associated with Halloween and everything to do with what we love about Halloween.
Evangelism: My approach to and motivation for sharing how my life is impacted by my faith in Christ has nothing to do with “militant or crusading zeal” and everything to do with the fact that my relationship with Christ is the best part of my life.
Is Halloween about pagan practices for you? Does evangelism mean "militant and crusading zeal" to you?
I am sorry for your loss. and more candy for me.
Tangent: Notice something. NOWHERE in the original definition #1 or in my filtered definition #1 is there ANY mention of converting people.
MrYehbut: “Well, you can’t deny that converting people is the goal of evangelism.”
Maybe for some. But they hold to a different definition of the word evangelism. Conversion is not my goal. Please don’t put words in my mouth or ulterior motives up my sleeve.
How am I so sure I don’t harbor a hidden goal to “convert” someone? Two reasons: (1) I am abso-flippin-lutly confident that I can’t convert anyone. Only God can do that. (2) I love being a stepping stone in someone’s growth. It’s my favorite part about training and coaching. I love asking people questions and I love learning what makes them tick. The side benefit is that I usually learn something in that process.
Danger Will Robinson. Rant Ahead.
Here’s the thing. I understand that there are people who have been a victim of “militant and crusading zeal.” I’ve been a victim of militant and crusading zeal. But I saw the zealots for who they were. A misguided fragment. I did NOT automatically stuff all Christians who talk about their faith in a tiny little box and write them off as annoying wackadoodles to be ignored or venomously and sarcastically ridiculed.
I personally believe that most reasonable, tolerant people are intellectually capable of evaluating individuals and situations on their own merit.
Evangelism means different things to different people. I’ve explained why I tell people about my faith, but I haven’t explained how evangelism fits into my everyday life.
So I gotta tell you, when someone stamps “militant and crusading zealot” on my forehead before they get to know me, it’s my faith in God and my respect for them as an individual that keeps me from looking for my own stamp. The one that says “lazy bigot.”
“You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.” Acts 22:15
“Witnessing assumes that the results are up to us; being a witness assumes that the results are up to God…In biblical evangelism, there’s nothing you have to memorize, no techniques or sales pitches to practice, no complicated philosophical arguments to comprehend and communicate. It’s just telling your story naturally, in the midst of the many divine appointments the Lord gives you each day. In the biblical sense, a witness does not always witness, but a witness is always a witness who shows others what Jesus had done and is doing in his or her life…In fact, being an effective witness is as easy as inviting [someone] to have a cup of coffee.”
My mistake was that I started at the beginning. I should have started by stating my premise and then worked my way backward.
I attempted to chronicle what God had revealed to me and how. Telling the story in the order the events took place was not a good idea.
The only people who understood what I was getting at were people who already recognized what I was describing.
A few people who didn’t understand what I was getting at – and wanted to understand what I was getting at – either asked to meet with me or sent me a personal message and we talked through it.
Thank GOD for them. They have been a blessing and an encouragement while providing accountability.
But there have also been a few who didn’t understand. There have been some who summarized 10 blog posts with “she criticized the pastor” and/or “she wants there to be an invitation at the end of every sermon” and tawked amongst themselves, spreading unfounded gossip.
That’s unfortunate. and sad.
I can’t fix that. It would wear me out to even try. Instead, I’m praying the people hearing that summary won’t take someone else’s word for it and will want to see for themselves. I’m praying that those people will seek out my blog for firsthand information and that, as they read the posts, the Holy Spirit will guide them as they form their own individual thoughts about what I’ve written.
There are some people who are reading, taking it all in and are quietly pondering. I love me some thinkers. I’m praying that the Holy Spirit moves in their lives to draw them into an even deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ as they work through what they themselves believe about all that I’ve said.
Some people don’t give a flying flip what Julie Mills thinks.
I expected all of those responses. But some things I didn’t anticipate.
I didn’t anticipate that assumptions would be made about what God had revealed to me before I could get to that part of the story.
I didn’t anticipate that those assumptions would be so far off the mark.
I didn’t anticipate that the preconceived ideas of some of the people reading would so completely envelope and suffocate my true message.
I didn’t anticipate that people would disagree so strongly with me without understanding what they were disagreeing with.
I didn’t anticipate that I would get so sidetracked by the task of explaining what I was NOT talking about.
I didn’t anticipate that I would get completely derailed by tangents.
So I’ve made a decision. Forget my story. If I get back to it, I get back to it. If not?
I’m grateful for the lesson learned. If God leads me to tell this story in the future, I will start at the end and work my way backwards.
Me, lamenting to FirstHusband: “It’s like I started out talking about oranges, but before I could even finish describing one, some people assumed I was talking about apples. And not just apples, ROTTEN apples. Now, somehow, I find myself not only talking about apples, but clarifying in painful detail the difference between rotten apples and fresh apples. I have no idea if and when I’m ever going to get back to describing the orange.
(Here’s how to crack that Julie code: Oranges represent abundant life in Christ. Rotten apples represent fire and brimstone turn or burn evangelism and fresh apples represent being open about what Christ has done and is doing in your every day life with the people in your every day life.)
So. For those of you who give a flyin flip, I’ve got another post, or maybe two, about fresh vs. rotten apples coming up and then I’m gonna start peeling an orange.
“If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it—how shortsighted to refuse correction!” Proverbs 12:1
“A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.”
Kenneth A. Wells
This is the 11th post of a series. CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.
This is the 9th post of a series. CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.
oh, go ahead. click the youtube video. It’s 7 seconds.
Lemme ‘splain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up.
When I talk about “preaching Christ”
I am NOT talking about preaching
“everybody is a sinner and they need Jesus or they’re going Hell.”
This is something we need to get out of the way before I continue. Purge this assumption from your mind. It is an obstacle to the actual message I’m trying to convey. A misleading tangent. A stumbling block. A wrong assumption.
So I need to say it again, louder.
When I talk about “preaching Christ”
I am NOT only talking about preaching
“everybody is a sinner and they need Jesus or they’re going Hell.”
My point, from the very beginning of this blog series is this:
THERE. IS. MORE!!!
and I WANT IT.
Is that whole “preaching Christ means preaching about getting saved” thing gone?
I’ve gotten some very eclectic feedback on this blog series. One of the reasons I held off hitting the publish button for as long as I did was that I knew that what I had written was filled with the potential to confuse, discourage and tick people off just as much as it had the potential to wake up, inspire and encourage people.
I wondered. Would I hear crickets? Would anybody even read it? Would anybody want to talk to me about what I’d written? Or would it make people so uncomfortable around me they would avoid eye contact and walk the other direction when they saw me coming? Would something I’d written hurt someone? Make them angry? Would people tolerate my ideas if they were different than their own? Would I be dismissed with the silent treatment? Would ANYone identify with me? Would ANYone agree with me?
But one thing I didn’t expect was that some people would think that by saying I wanted a “Christ-centered” church and that I wanted my pastor to “preach Christ” I was saying I wanted every sermon to be like this:
or worse yet, like this: (be sure and read it with a southern accent and yell the one syllable words that have morphed into two syllable words ending in “ah.”)
“EV-ER-EEbody IS A HORRIBLE, SINNER!!!! IF YOU DO NOT ACCEPT JESUS CHRIST-tah, IF YOU ARE NOT BORN AGAIN-nah, YOU’RE DESTINED-dah TO BURN IN HELL-lah FOR ETERNITY. DO I HEAR AN AMEN?!”
That is NOT what I’m talking about.
and yet, in spite of everything I had written, that’s what some readers were coming away with.
I’m telling you. It was driving me nuts. I went back over my Christ-centered posts again and again and I didn’t SEE it. I could NOT find it.
WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? WHERE DID I SEND THAT MESSAGE?
Kudos to my friend “Flutterby43” for reminding me about decoding. Sad, really. I was a communication major. I should have remembered this.
Encoding is, to simplify it, the words and pictures I use to convey my message. DEcoding is how that message is interpreted. The constant here is that the encoding of my message is the same for everyone who is reading my blog posts. The variables are the personal filters that my message has to make it through as people interpret (decode) that message. The discrepancies in those interpretations are due to the fact that sometimes my message isn’t making it through the decoding process unscathed by those personal filters.
Translated? We all have baggage, people. And sometimes, that baggage leads us to interpret – or decode – messages in messages that aren’t really there. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. We’ll all do it again.
But this time, I got some feedback about this message.
Here’s the conversation that finally led me to figure it out:
Flutterby43: “My quiet, introverted nature gravitates toward a more contemplative worship style, and I would be overwhelmed and, yes, SCARED by fire and brimstone – but I totally get where you’re coming from.”
Me: “Your comment “fire and brimstone.” Where does that come from? You’re not the first person to take that away. What did I say that caused you to think that? I can’t find it. I don’t see it.”
Flutterby43: “You didn’t use the term – That’s just my phraseology – honestly, if I had a pastor telling me every week that I needed Jesus, because I’m a hopeless sinner, it’d get old. (Again, that’s just my interpretation of what you’re saying) I know I need Jesus. I know I’m a sinner. But I’m just not an “in your face” kinda gal. I tend to beat myself up on my own – if I heard that every week, I’d come away from church feeling so bad about myself, I’d probably just crawl into bed and never leave the house!” (emphasis added)
Me: “ahhhhhhhh. Thank you! That was driving me crazy. I think I get it. “Preaching Christ” gives the impression that I’m talking about evangelism. and it appears evangelism means “fire and brimstone” and “turn or burn” to some people. I REALLY need to finish this series. I still haven’t gotten through what I mean by Gospel and preaching Christ. I thought I clarified that I wasn’t just talking about evangelism, in my post “the gospel is more than evangelism,” but I need to hurry up and explain – more and better.
There’s more to Christ than salvation.”
I knew when I started posting this series that it was long and that it would take me a while to get through it, but I didn’t think through how the drawn out nature of the process could lead to premature and incorrect assumptions about my point.
The fact is, some people are going to run my message through their personal internal filters and think I am saying:
“I want to hear fire and brimstone turn or burn sermons every week. And every chance they get, I think everybody in my church should tell all their friends (and strangers) that if they don’t repent they’re going to hell! And when they don’t, they should feel really guilty about it. It’s just more evidence that everybody is a horrible, hopeless sinner and bad Christian.”
That’s NOT what I’m saying. Thankfully, from the feedback I’m receiving, I’m confident that some people are identifying with what I actually AM saying – my true message is resonating with them.
But here’s the thing, now that I know there are some people are going to interpret the words “Christ-centered” as “fire and brimstone turn or burn evangelism”, it’s MY RESPONSIBILITY TO MODIFY MY ENCODING in an effort to clarify my message and minimize any misinterpretation.
So, I’m holding off on my story for a little longer. I’ve got some encoding work to do.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)
“Everything is made to center upon the initial act of “accepting” Christ . . . and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him we need no more seek Him. This is set before us as the last word in orthodoxy, and it is taken for granted that no Bible-taught Christian ever believed otherwise. Thus the whole testimony of the worshipping, seeking, singing Church on that subject is crisply set aside. The experiential heart-theology of a grand army of fragrant saints is rejected in favor of a smug interpretation of Scripture which would certainly have sounded strange to an Augustine, a Rutherford or a Brainerd.” The Pursuit of God (free on Kindle from Amazon)
by A. W. Tozer.
This is the 9th post of a series. CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.
I’ve been telling a story these last 8 blog posts. I got through August of 2012. But I have to interrupt myself. The story can wait.
Today, my pastor preached Christ.
and I mean he PREACHED Christ.
In his words, “TESTIFY!”
Today, my pastor preached an evangelical sermon. Not one person left my church today without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not one person left my church today without hearing how their lives could be changed by placing their faith in Jesus.
I sought him out. I had to tell him:
“I am actively praying that the culture of this church and the foundation of every sermon will be saturated in the core of the message you gave today. THANK YOU.”
but here’s the thing.
the gospel is so much bigger than a sermon.
one sermon canNOT change the culture of my church.
one man canNOT change the culture of my church.
Even if He tried to do it through sermons alone, not every sermon can be about accepting Jesus. Evidencing the gospel of Jesus Christ is much more straightforward within the context of an evangelistic sermon than it is in sermons addressing every facet of our lives as Christians.
The gospel is much MUCH more than evangelism.
I need to say that again, even louder.
The gospel is much MUCH more than evangelism.
I’m a reader. It’s a freakish obsession. And I’ve learned something I want to know more about.
Jesus can be found in EVERY. Book. of. the. Bible.
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” John 5:39
I want to hear more. I want to learn more. I NEED to learn more.
I want to dig DEEPER than what this kid can tell me in 4 minutes
I want to find Jesus in every nook and cranny of my Bible. EVERY WEEK.
I will NEVER tire of learning about the redemptive story of Jesus Christ.
“Now, you may be thinking, Okay, the message of the Bible is Christ; I got it. But we have to talk about other things too. Didn’t Paul talk about singing, home life, master-slave relationships, and his coworkers in Colossians 3 and 4?
Yes, he did. However, he addressed all of these topics in the light of Christ. The other subjects were like spokes in a wheel, the wheel being Christ Himself…
So Christ is found in the big picture, but He’s also found in the smallest details. he’s at the forefront of all spiritual things, yet He’s present in the practical things as well.
How did Paul put it in Colossians 3:11? “Christ is all and in all.”
This is the 7th post of a series. To read the sixth post, entitled “going through the motions” CLICK HERE.
If you need some context, links to all of the previous posts are provided at the end of this post.
Back to August 2012.
In the middle of everything that was happening, I was struck with a memory that cut through 25 years. Buried in my mind, probably nestled somewhere between the lyrics of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, was a scene from the movie Labyrinth.
Seems straightforward. Just a story. A fairy tale.
But even the filmmakers intended it to be a metaphor.
Here’s the backstory/narrative:
The protagonist, a young girl named Sarah, was on a quest. She had to find her way through a magical labyrinth in search of a child who had been stolen by an evil King.
At one point, the evil King causes Sarah to lose her memory and she finds herself in the middle of a junk yard. As she stands, she braces herself against what she thinks is a pile of junk, but it turns out to be a woman, with about 3 feet of junk strapped to her back. There are more junk people everywhere, sifting through piles. As Sarah looks around with a confused expression on her face; all she can remember is that she was searching for something.
She wanders aimlessly through the junk yard, followed by the Junk Lady who’s babbling incessantly. After a few minutes, Sarah stops, looking around, lost and bewildered, and mumbles,
“I was searching for something.”
The Junk Lady, immediately responsive, says “Well, look here!” and hands Sarah what appears to be her Teddy Bear.
Sarah, recognizing something familiar and comforting, immediately takes the Teddy Bear and thanks the Junk Lady who replies “That’s what you were looking for, wasn’t it my dear?” Sarah holds the bear close
“Yes. I forgot.”
Then the Junk Lady leads Sarah through a path in the junk, toward a door, saying “Why don’t you come in here and see if there’s anything else you like?” Sarah steps through the door into what appears to be her bedroom. Filled with relief, she throws herself on her bed and covers her head with a pillow.
She’s home. She’s safe.
Until she opens her bedroom door to find her father. At which point, the Junk Lady barges in,
“Better to stay in here dear! There’s nothing you want out there.”
She begins handing Sarah stuffed animals and dolls and toys, naming each one and reminding Sarah how much she loves them. As Sarah sits, her arms overloaded with dolls and toys, she seems almost in a trance and softly says, “There was something I was looking for.” The Junk Lady immediately tells her
“Don’t talk nonsense! It’s all here, everything in the world you’ve ever cared about is all right here.”
Still loaded down with all the stuff the Junk Lady has been handing her, Sarah spots a book and reaches for it.
It’s the story she’s in. The story she’s forgotten she’s in. She begins reading:
“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered…”
Suddenly, she remembers. And the Junk Lady knows it. “What’s the matter my dear, don’t you like your toys?”
Sarah is overcome with the realization: “It’s all junk!”
She throws one of the “treasures” the Junk Lady has given her and suddenly the walls of the room begin to collapse, revealing the truth. She’s in the middle of a junk yard.
It was a facade.
I looked around the sanctuary and I could see it. It was a facade.
Without Christ, it’s all junk.
Does that offend you? Stay with me, I’m making a point. I promise.
Sarah was looking for something, but she was deceived into believing all that other stuff was what she really needed and wanted.
The truth behind that scene hit home 25 years ago and it cuts even deeper today. The evil King was powerful. Why didn’t he just throw her into a dungeon? Why didn’t he just kill her? Satan is evil and he has power in this world. Why doesn’t he order some evil little minion destroy that sanctuary?
Because there’s no need. It’s too easy to distract instead. To provide things of comfort and security. Beautiful things. Things that make sense and are familiar.
Good enough things.
If you think about it, most things that end up in a junk yard were desired at some point. Somewhere along the line, someone bought or made or was given each and every item. Whether functional and useful or just something pretty to look at (and dust), the items that end up in the junk yard are things that no longer have value to us.
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Sarah could have embraced the facade of her bedroom and all the things she thought she wanted and needed. She could have abandoned her quest and settled into a life of comfort and security, forgetting all about the child she was searching for, never venturing outside her comfort zone, never talking to the junk people or dealing with all that junk. But thankfully, because of a book, she remembered.
Once she discovered the truth, she knew she couldn’t stay nestled in that safe, comfortable facade. She intentionally destroyed the facade of comfort and safety even though it meant coming face to face with the junk.
Because she remembered she was looking for something.
Just two days later. Friday. I was back on campus for another Christian yoga class. Afterward, I found myself back in the empty sanctuary again. This time, I picked up the pew Bible and intentionally turned to the book of Isaiah.
Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote; Isaiah 29:13
I had to read it again.
I turned to Matthew 15:8-9, the verse I had read on Wednesday. It was a pew Bible. There were no cross references. But I knew the footnotes of a reference Bible would link them.
“This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
I glanced up at verse 7.
“You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:”
“Isaiah prophesied.” Had I seen that Wednesday? Is that why I turned directly to Isaiah on Friday? Maybe.
But that didn’t explain how I turned directly to Isaiah 29:13.
That was God. Freakin me out.
I’m not a big believer in coincidences. I was blown away by the fact that God had led me to these two scriptures. I turned back to Isaiah and continued reading verse 14.
so I will again do amazing things with this people, shocking and amazing. The wisdom of their wise shall perish, and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden. Isaiah 29:14
I knew what I wanted that to mean.
But the Bible is not a crystal ball.
I wanted it to mean that God would do amazing things with this church. I turned on my phone and looked up Isaiah 29:13-14 on biblegateway.com. Out of curiosity, I switched versions to The Message.
The Master said: “These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their hearts aren’t in it. Because they act like they’re worshiping me but don’t mean it, I’m going to step in and shock them awake, astonish them, stand them on their ears. The wise ones who had it all figured out will be exposed as fools. The smart people who thought they knew everything will turn out to know nothing.”
What did this mean?
Why did God lead me to those two scriptures?
I didn’t know. It would appear I’m definitely not one of the wise ones. But it would also appear that was a good thing.
Again, I sat on the stage where I stand to sing with the praise team during worship. And I prayed Wednesday’s desperate, “mean” prayers again.
And then I prayed some more.
I prayed for a miracle. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would move in a powerful way.
I prayed for our services that Sunday.
I prayed for my pastor again, that he would preach Christ.
I prayed for the congregation, that they would seek Christ and
I prayed for the worship team, that we would point to Christ.
And I blatantly and unashamedly prayed for myself. I prayed that God would equip me for His service.
I prayed for encouragement if God wanted me to stay.
Unwillingly, I prayed that God would give me a sense of hopelessness if he wanted me to leave.
I was there a while.
The next Sunday, August 19th, my pastor preached on The Book of Revelation. A letter to the Church of Sardis:
“I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. 3 Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent.”
And he spoke the name of Jesus more times in that one sermon than he had spoken it in months!
Was that God? Freaking me out? Was this a turning point in the life of my church?
And selfishly, I wondered. Was that God encouraging me? Or Satan, trying to derail me? I had prayed for God to move and still I doubted. Was this God moving? Or was it just that the content of this particular message included Jesus as a “structural component?”
I spent most of the next Monday and Tuesday writing up as much as I could remember. Everything I’ve published in the previous 4 posts and pages more. Wednesday, while writing, I was curious. What did scripture have to say about our human attempts to reach people for Christ. I Googled “Bible verse evangelism.”
God and Google led me to 1 Corinthians 1:17:
“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
I continued reading.
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
You’ve got to be kidding me. There it was again. Was God’s trying to tell me something? Was I just too dense to figure it out? Or had God not revealed it to me yet? I know what I’d bet on. I continued to read.
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
“It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
God can do anything – in spite of us. But would He do this?
I still didn’t know.
The next Sunday, the pastor referenced 1 Corinthians 1:17. I knew that verse. I picked up a pew Bible and turned to read it, continuing on to verse 19. There it was again:
19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
This was getting ridiculous.
Remember, that was August of last year. Fast forward to yesterday. A friend who’s been following these blog posts sent me an email and said:
“the Scriptures call the Gospel an offense to those who are perishing.”
As soon as I opened this blog draft today God freaked me out again. I sent my friend a text and asked where that came from.
The reply? 1 Corinthians 1:21-25.
You don’t have to scroll up too far in this post to see that I’ve quoted 1 Corinthians 1:17-25.
and I wrote the first draft of this post months ago..
(to be continued. Sorry. I know this one is a bit of a cliff-hanger, but it was already soooo long.)
“If you are frustrated with the lack of gospel-centrality in your current church culture, understand that cultural frustration always precedes cultural transformation. The frustration is good and beautiful if it leads you to long for the grace of Jesus to permeate your theology, philosophy, and practice. Paul’s concluding words to the Galatian believers are poignant: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers” (Gal. 6: 18 ESV). Paul believed the only solution to church culture dysfunction is Jesus— the only One who can build a culture of grace in your church. He is the One who brings brokenness and repentance. He is the One we must trust. He is the only One who could remedy the broken sacrificial system among His people, and He is the only One who could repair the shifting church culture in Galatia. Only He can raise a life, and only He can raise a dead culture.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with our churches.”
I prayed he would be completely overcome with a burning passion for preaching Christ. A passion he would be incapable of ignoring.
I prayed that he would find no rest until he abandoned his will and his view of “effective” preaching and succumbed to that passion.
I prayed that a desire to preach Christ would keep him up at night.
I desperately begged the Holy Spirit to pursue him relentlessly.
I prayed that God would inundate him with irrefutable evidence of a continuous need to preach Christ – from every direction; through every person he encountered, everything he read, everything he saw – from emails to bumper stickers.
I prayed for him to find no escape.
I prayed for him to be profoundly brokenhearted at the realization that some of the people God had entrusted him to lead did not know Christ personally.
I prayed for him to be stubbornly unwilling to allow a single person to leave church after a Sunday morning service without hearing that JESUS is what they need, not only for salvation, but
– for the strength to make it through a day,
– the ability to serve in His name and
– the freedom to forgive themselves when they failed to “be good.”
I prayed that my pastor would be wrecked.
And that he would find no relief from the wrecking except by preaching Christ.
I prayed for each individual members of the congregation.
I thanked God for the people in the congregation who had received salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
I begged God to remind those who had forgotten Him – like I had.
and I begged Him to move in the hearts and minds of those people who had never received salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
I prayed that every. single. member of the congregation would be dissatisfied.
I prayed that people would be afflicted by an unquenchable hunger for more than the milk they were being fed.
I prayed they would develop an insatiable hankering for the meat of the gospel.
I prayed for God to somehow make me aware of others who also realized that our church was lukewarm. I prayed that I would be able to recognize and identify with others who were searching for more than
– encouragement to live good Christian lives,
– Biblical instruction on how to do so and
– affirmation that service to others was the ultimate demonstration of a commitment to God.
I prayed that people would never again use the word “enjoy” to describe their reaction to a sermon they heard, but would instead find themselves convicted, moved, inspired and personally challenged.
I prayed for myself.
I prayed that God would tell me what to do!
Should I leave the church or stay and continue to strive for something nobody else seemed to want?
I seemed to be in a tiny little minority.
Other than a handful of people, nobody else seemed to notice.
There were definitely not too many of us. If God were to move, all the glory would be His.
And as I prayed all of this, I doubted. Not that God could, but that God would.
Because although it grieved him, the father allowed his prodigal son to leave. The father didn’t go after him and force him to come home against his will. And the son, believing he knew what was best for himself, did not return.
Until he was broken and desperate.
My church is broken, but blind to the brokenness. Desperate for the Father, but unaware of the need.
Why didn’t I go to my pastor?
On two occasions. It had not gone well.
As a result of those two encounters, I decided to pray about it instead of continuing to try and work things out on my own.
Because I believe in the power of prayer. I wish I could say I always approach prayer as my first line of defense instead of my last resort. I really, REALLY wish I could say that. But I can’t.
Even though I do believe God can do ANYthing.
I was praying for God to move in my pastor’s life; for God to inspire him to preach Christ.
I KNOW God is able.
Through the conversations with my pastor, I came to a realization. If I continued to try and work things out on my own instead praying and giving it up to God, I knew it would be a lack of faith. It would be me saying:
“just forget it, God. I’ve been praying and praying and you haven’t done anything. I’ll fix it myself!”
I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it.
Because God can do ANYthing. and if He chooses not to, who am I to manipulate circumstances to fit my view of how things should be?
So I begged God to tell me if He wanted me to stay and serve in spite of my longing to hear the name of Jesus proclaimed as the way and the truth and the light.
I prayed all these things and more as I sat alone with God in that empty sanctuary. And then I sat. Silent.
Listening for God to speak.
My mind came back again and again to Matthew 15:8-9:
“In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
I had come into the sanctuary that autumn morning to pray for revival in my church. For direction.
I went home.
No less confused about what God wanted me to do.
And I continued to pray. Like a widow. persistently.
(to be continued)
“If the culture of a church is at odds with the stated beliefs of the church…the unstated message speaks louder than the stated one.”